Literature Review

In reviewing literature on the uses of Web 2.0 tools, my goal was to look for ways that these tools are being integrated into the classroom and to find learn what experienced educators have learned about the pros and cons of using blogs, wikis and other tools.

One common thread in the literature is that students find the new technology exciting and that educators should build on this interest. Hauser (2007), an information media consultant, believes that Using Web 2.0 tools “can make … learning more interesting for students.” She shares that they create an “environment filled with opportunities to not only create content in new ways but also to share information, communicate differently, collaborate easily with the rest of the world, and self-publish.” Acknowledging that students are already eagerly using many of the tools, she encourages media personnel, which I would generalize to all educators, to familiarize themselves the tools, collaborate with colleagues, implement projects and share information with staff, students and parents.

Hauser offers educators instruction on blogs, wikis, RSS feeds, podcasts and social networking, tools that can enhance the curriculum while fulfilling educational requirements. She shares some of the free tools available for education and recommends that educators try out the individual blogs themselves. This was very helpful to me in deciding which tools to evaluate for my own inquiry. One of the best sources of new information is the experiences of other educators.

Borja (2005), writes about how the Web 2.0 is motivating students who in the past would not participate in discussion. She describes the experiences of another classroom teacher who found that “10th, 11th, and 12th graders-even the sullen or quiet ones who never raised their hands or took part in class discussions-were spilling out their thoughts on an assignment both to him and their classmates” when they were given the chance to do so on a blog. One of the reasons for this interest is that blogs are like an interactive conversation., one that gives empowerment to the student by allowing him or her to be heard and seen. Another benefit is that of being heard beyond the classroom.

Borja also gives the benefit of allowing everyone in the class to have a voice, not just the most outspoken students. This would imply that using a blog would bring more equity to class discussions, especially for students who are uncomfortable or shy in the class. Very often, the special needs student is reluctant to participate, however blogging would help level the playing field for students who can take the time to formulate their ideas before they share them on the blog. She notes that educators have found that students become interested enough to continue to blog from their homes.

Borja also talks about how the quality of writing is improved due to the fact that a blog is more public. Students will expend more effort on writing style, spelling and grammar when they know that others can see their work. She also makes a point of including the opinion of another educator who believes that blogging should complement classroom conversation so that students experience both ways to communication. This side benefit also has cross-curricular implications where good writing is a requirement in English, history and other courses.

Read and Fisher (2006), set out to analyze why blogging is so popular among adolescents in order to capitalize on their motivation. The authors theorize that blogging supports the need for relatedness, which is “ satisfied when people have relationships in which they can share their thoughts and feelings.” In addition, growth needs are satisfied when people are able to use their current capabilities as well as develop new talents.” Since blogs are about people’s thoughts on a given topic, this allows them to express their feelings. When people comment on their entries, they know others are relating to what they have said. Growth is also achieved through blogging as there is the learning of new technology and growth as a writer.

They examined the blogs of a number of teenagers and posted questions to them asking about why they blogged. A common thread was that is a form of release of their feelings, even if they don’t get comments on their posting. In other words, they do it for themselves, as opposed to the public, although they do appreciate when people leave supportive comments. Another reason that they give is to connect with friends. One teen suggested to the authors that classroom blogging should encourage students to write personal feelings and relate them to classwork work.

The authors note that blogging provides students with an audience and allows them to “make their mark upon the world, and leave their footprints on the sand of the Internet.” It also allows them to grow as writers and users of technology. It can also act as a diary, as their posts are archived on the blog, allowing them to revisit what they’ve written at a later date.
Read and Fisher build on the students’ desire for social connection when integrating blogging into studies. They have found that students are more motivated by student feedback than marks and are more careful about what they write. They are also more motivated when topics are self-chosen, however if a certain topic is required, teachers can give students the choice about what form their work will take and how it will look.

Blogs are traditionally shorter and writing style less formal than other forms of written course work. This encourages students to write more often and spend less time on mechanics and more on expressing feelings. This can be an advantage for students who have learning difficulties, as they are able to worry less about style and concentrate on their ideas

November (2001), doesn’t specifically mention Web 2.0 in his book (as it was written in 2001) however he senses the advent of the way technology would be changing the classroom. He mentions several ways in which students feel empowered by technology. One way is that students enjoy the anonymity of the internet and feel that they have the freedom to express themselves more freely. He also mentions, as did Red and Fisher, that on-line activities give students “time to respond, so they can be more thoughtful in their answers.” He also notes that it hard to exclude a student when everyone is on-line, especially when students have the opportunity to post comments. November also says that on-line learning can improve social relationships through collaborative work and allow everyone to express their feelings. He also sees the benefit of improved parent involvement, when parents can see what work is being posted.

Web 2.0 is not just about blogs and wikis. Richardson (2006) shares his ideas about The Social Web and its power to reshape learning. “The collaborative construction of knowledge by those willing to contribute is redefining the ways we think about teaching and learning at every level.” Richardson says that working collaboratively allows a class to find connections and take shared responsibility for learning in a way not experienced in a traditional classroom. He acknowledges the uses of blogs and wikis as ways to create content and construct meaning, however Richardson also praises the value of social web tools “that focus primarily on creating connections rather than creating content.”

One such example is social bookmarking, with which users are “participating in the creation of a new way of organizing information.” Through a collaboration of those using the sites, new tagging systems are being created. Richardson expresses that the user-generated system of classification, termed folksonomy, has the potential to lead to more and better information. He says that the emphasis in education will change from keeping track of where research is located to knowing how to retrieve it. A strong benefit of using social networks such as social bookmarking is that it allows people to benefit from the work of others to help in their own learning. Reading and absorbing Richardson’s enthusiasm for social bookmarking and tagging, I realized the wide range of possibilities for Web 2.0 tools in education. There also seems to be an added benefit of helping students organize their thinking by using these tools.

Potential problems with Web 2.0 Tools

One benefit of a literature review is learning the pitfalls or problems that others have experienced. James (2004) shares her experience in attempted to use a wiki for enriching her curriculum and her disappointed with the outcome. She reflected that the tool is not as important as how you use it. She wrote in her blog that “a wiki does not have any inherent properties that will instantly make a knowledge-building community. It depends not only on the software configuration-- for example whether certain areas are locked or whether you make templates for layout—but also on the social norms and practices around the wiki. In a classroom setting, this means the practice of the teacher, and the interactions of the students”. (James, 2007)

Hauser (2007), speaks about other potential problems with Web 2.0 tools. The first problem and most serious is about student safety on the internet. She acknowledges that many students know how to get around blocked sites and feels that they should be educated in responsible internet use. Another concern is the possibility of vandalism on blogs and wikis and to ensure that passwords and permissions are used effectively. She is also concerned with copyright issues and suggests that students use free, collaborative sites such as Commons for images and music.

Borja (2005), adds an additional concern about students revealing personal information. She quotes educator and blogger Will Richardson who advocates the use of first names or initials, instead of using numbers, as there is less ownership for students when they are identified by numbers.

The literature review supports my belief that students are likely to be motivated by Web 2.0 tools. I read some excellent advice on ways to implement the tools in my grade 11 art room. As well, I will heed the advice of those more experienced in blog and wiki use and take into account safety and ethical considerations when planning my curriculum.

As well, the literature also encouraged me to use the tools to differentiate my instruction and assessment, as many students, including those with learning differences, can be accommodated through the use of the tools.



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